Although I don’t personally follow any particular religion these days, it’s interesting how religions can often be such a large part of the sci-fi genre.
Sometimes, religions are most notable by their complete absence (eg: with the main characters in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) – but, a lot of time, a sci-fi TV series, comic or novel will often include at least one futuristic religion of some kind of another. I’ll mostly be talking about sci-fi TV shows here, for the simple reason that they offer some of the most well-recognised examples of sci-fi religions.
Anyway, there are a lot of reasons why sci-fi writers add religion to the genre, since invented religions can be a brilliant way to explore the whole idea of religious belief (eg: in a show like “Bablyon 5”, which contains both futuristic religions and present-day religions).
Sci-fi religions can also be an interesting way of showing some of your story’s distant backstory, for the simple reason that most religions tend to come with a lot of history attached to them.
Sci-fi religions can also be an absolutely great way to satirise and criticise present-day religions without doing so directly (eg: the Ori in the later seasons of “Stargate SG-1” are an absolutely brilliant parody of both religious evangelism and religious fundamentalism. Likewise, the Go’auld from the earlier seasons of the show are a brilliant metaphor for how religion can easily be used by those in authority as an extra tool of control).
But, how do you create a futuristic religion for your sci-fi story or comic? There are many ways to do this, but here are three of the more basic ones:
1) An Idea: One of the most interesting ways to come up with a sci-fi religion is to just take a secular idea or philosophy and then think about what it would be like if people took this idea or philosophy to an extreme and followed it in a more religious way.
To give you an example from my short lived sci-fi/comedy fiction series from 2013, one of the characters is a woman called Tellare who follows a nihilistic religion that worships “the void”. Here’s how she’s introduced:
“On the opposite side of the hallway, Tellare Spark was thinking about death again. In fact, she was doing nothing but sitting cross-legged on her bunk and thinking about death. According to her Voidmistress, the best way to focus on the emptiness of mortality was to close your eyes until you could see nothing but darkness and hear the silence of your mind.
Apparently a Voidmaster on Earth Prime had actually managed to do this constantly for three days until he actually died. According to the old news feed that Tellare had seen about it, he had looked just as bored five minutes before he died as he did afterwards.”
This basically evolved from my own thoughts about whether it was possible to create a religion which strongly believed that there was no afterlife whatsoever. And, if such a religion existed, then what would it look like?
2) A Copy: One easy way to come up with futuristic religions is to look at a couple of present-day religions and to copy some of the basic philosophies from them, whilst adding a lot of new stuff.
Just make sure that you don’t include any significant holy figures from any present-day religions in your copy though (since some religions get touchy about this kind of thing). The basic idea is to create something new that also subtly evokes current religions too.
A good televised example of this would probably be the Wayist religion from Gene Roddenberry’s “Andromeda”. This is a religion that one of the main characters follows and it’s fairly heavily based on both Buddhism and Taoism, as well as on various monotheistic religions.
This means that this character is a pacifist who lives a rather simple and monastic life. He comes across as a religious person the instant that you see him, but it’s hard to tell exactly which religion he follows unless you watch more of the show.
However, when it comes to old religions with little to no followers these days, it can also be interesting to reinvent these as modern religions. A good example of this can be seen in the 2004 remake of “Battlestar Galactica”, where many of the characters worship various Gods and Goddesses from Greek mythology. This is a rather low-key part of the show, but it emphasises the fact that the characters in this show are from a distant part of space.
3) Mystery: One of the quickest ways to come up with a believable sci-fi religion is to not show too much of it and to let your audience’s imaginations fill in the gaps. In other words, have your characters occasionally quote from a religious book or mention something from their religion without going into too much depth about it.
If you do this, then all you’ll have to come up with is a few spiritual-sounding quotes and maybe the names of a few holy days. You won’t have to think up a religion’s central principles or history, but your story will still have the added atmosphere and depth that sci-fi religions can provide.
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂
(Now, yield before the hypnotoad!)